Guru 42 Blog

What frightens you more: the dark web or credit bureaus

A television commercial offers to find if your personal information is on the dark web.

The first time I saw that Experian commercial, I immediately said, "Well that's really stupid!" (Maybe I added a few colorful adjectives as well to my shouted out remarks.)

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Experian is preying on the fear of the dark web to sell their services. Let's just assume for the sake of this question that everything that is sold on the "dark web" is less than legal. (That's what Experian is implying.) Why would Experian have any special access to less than legal information, more so than anyone else? Does that make sense?

If Experian did have some sophisticated way of searching the dark web and finding less than legal databases of information, wouldn't they have a legal obligation to report their findings to the police or other government agencies, rather than offering this information as a service?

What information?

For the sake of this question, let's address the basic question of "what is the danger if your information is on the dark web?”

We all should be worried about all of our information on the deep web, just above "the evils" of the dark web.

Do a search on your name, does it bother you that your current address, age, employer, and contact information is so readily available on the public web? Does it bother you that there are so many websites on the internet, that are offering to sell you information about people?

If a hacker had downloaded an entire database of information illegally, why would they have the contents stored where someone could access it? (As Experian is implying.) Unless you are someone rich and famous where one single bit of information could be used to blackmail an individual, if a hacker steals a database, they are going to sell the entire database.

And you would trust Experian?

It is pretty ironic that Experian, the company who had their servers hacked exposing the personal data of 15 million T-Mobile customers wants to help me find identity thieves on the dark web.

Lessons from the Experian hack: Lessons from the Experian hack

Experian Faces Class Action Over T-Mobile Data Breach: Experian Faces Class Action Over T-Mobile Data Breach - Cohen & Malad, LLP

Experian wants you to be afraid, very afraid of the dark. In exchange for their services, they are asking you to sell your soul to them. In order for you to have Experian check the darkness in your name, you are agreeing to Experian's terms of service:

"... Experian's terms of service and found a densely written, nearly 17,600-word document — a contract the length of a novella.

Not surprisingly, this is where you'll find an arbitration clause preventing you from suing the company — an increasingly common aspect of consumer contracts nowadays. That's the least of your worries, though.

It turns out running a free dark-Web email scan opens you up to "advertisements or offers for available credit cards, loan options, financial products or services, or credit-related products or services and other offers to customers."

Reference: Credit agency Experian says it can protect you from the 'dark Web' — sort of

Are You Afraid of Credit Bureaus?

Their commercial infuriates me. It preys upon fear and ignorance. I am much more afraid of what damage a credit bureau could do to my life than any information you could find about me on the dark web.

Let me conclude this answer with another question. What frightens you more, the thought of finding your information on the dark web or credit bureaus like Experian having the right to sell your information as they do?

In case you are curious:

Wondering about the dark web and the forbidden fruit of the internet

Buzzwords from the world wide web to deep web and dark net



Last remnants of Westinghouse Electric for sale

A Wall Street Journal article proclaims, "Westinghouse, Once an Industrial Powerhouse, Is on Brink of Sale."

The article talks about the current Westinghouse Electric Co, "a faded industrial giant that once helped electrify the world," as if the company being sold was the same company founded in 1886 by George Westinghouse. It's not, it is one last remnant of the original Westinghouse Electric that still bears the Westinghouse name.

The empire created by George Westinghouse, and the variety of products that carried the Westinghouse name have been split up over various companies over the years through a variety of mergers and acquisitions. The Westinghouse Electric mentioned in the article is the US based nuclear power company formed in 1998 from the nuclear power division of the original Westinghouse Electric Corporation.  The company retained the Westinghouse name even though it was acquired by Toshiba in 2005.  The Westinghouse nuclear power company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2017 and is being purchased by the company Brookfield Business Partners.

The current American mass media CBS Corporation, focused on commercial broadcasting, inherited much of the original Westinghouse Electric Company. When CBS Corporation was acquired by Viacom in 1999 that technically marked the end of the original Westinghouse Corporation. In 2005 CBS and Viacom split up, and the CBS Corporation lives on.

We will be watching to see if a new nuclear company creayed from the assets of the current Westinghouse Electric still carries the name Westinghouse. At one time the two major companies that dominated our world of electricity and electric appliances were Westinghouse and General Electric, which can be traced to Thomas Edison.

Interesting, the brand name of "Westinghouse" is still owned by the CBS Corporation. (Westinghouse heritage)

The names of Westinghouse Electric and General Electric are slowing fading away in corporate America, but the legacy of the great inventor and industrialist George Westinghouse lives on at GeekHistory.

A photo of  Westinghouse generators at Edward Dean Adams Power Plant in Niagara Fall, the first large-scale, alternating current electric generating plant in the world, built in 1895, reminds us of the legacy of Westinghouse.


Net Neutrality anxiety high over proposed changes by FCC Chairman

Many new questions are popping up regarding FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposing to reverse the FCC classification of home and mobile ISPs as common carriers.

There is panic and paranoia over what these changes might mean. I am not getting excited.

I have written quite a bit about proposed internet regulations over the years.  Here is a little historic perspective on the fight for control over telecommunications.

Government controls radio

The Radio Act of 1912 mandated that all radio stations in the United States be licensed by the federal government.

The government took over full control of all radio service for the good of the cause when the United States entered into WWI. All amateur and commercial use of radio ended in the U.S. on April 7, 1917. It became illegal for private U.S. citizens to own an operational radio transmitter or receiver.

The Radio Act of 1927 created The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) to regulate radio use "as the public interest, convenience, or necessity" requires.

Expanding power and control beyond radio, to all forms of telecommunications, now falls under The Federal Communications Commission which was created in 1934.

The Federal Communications Commission battles starting in 1934

The Communications Act of 1934 established the basic regulations of communication by wire and radio. The internet went commercial in the mid 1990s and The Telecommunications Act of 1996 addressed the new and emerging technologies.

Since 1996 the categories of Telecommunications Service, Broadcast Services, and Cable Services have become muddied together, rather than being distinctly different services. In 2015, the FCC classified Internet Service Providers as common carriers under The Communications Act of 1934 Title II, for the purpose of enforcing net neutrality.

The term "Net neutrality" was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003. The concept is based on legal concept of common carrier which became popular in the United States with the late 1800s with the railroad barons controlling the flow of goods and services.

Any FCC ruling can be challenged in the courts, as it has been in the past.

Telecommunications and Federal Trade Commission antitrust suits

Government antitrust suits have been a part of telecommunications dating back to the early 20th century. In 1913 Kingsbury Commitment was an out-of-court settlement of the government's antitrust challenge of AT&T's monopoly of the phone industry. In 1949 an antitrust lawsuit alleged that AT&T and the Bell System operating companies were using their near-monopoly in telecommunications to attempt to establish unfair advantages.

The government forced the breakup of the Bell System in 1982 into seven different holding companies. Through mergers and acquisitions over the years, four of the seven "Baby Bells" are now part of AT&T and two are part of Verizon.

Any actions by a telecommunications company can be challenged in the courts and the Federal Trade Commission as they have been in the past.

It's nothing new

Any changes made to Net Neutrality regulations in December 2017 will only be one event in an ongoing battle for control of telecommunications that has been waged on many fronts since the early development of radio and telephone services in the early 20th century.

Any changes made will be challenged, and changed again.

Learn more:

Net Neutrality and the myth that the internet is free



Photo: FCC Chairman Genachowski swears in Ajit Pai as a new Commissioner at the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC.
May 14, 2012. [Federal Communications Commission Photo]




Debunking the Nikola Tesla myths by way of defending Thomas Edison

When I created the GeekHistory website my main goal was to draw attention to the many scientists and inventors that I call the forgotten geeks. It was not my plan to spend a lot of time defending Thomas Edison, after all he does get mentioned often.

As I revved up my writing for the GeekHistory over the last few years I have become active in social media looking for common questions about famous inventors and inventions. In search of information on all the "who invented it" myths of technology history I found a great deal of misinformation giving credit to Nikola Tesla for a variety of inventions. I find myself often defending Thomas Edison because of often over the top claims of everything that Nikola Tesla allegedly invented.

Nikola Tesla has a cult following that gives him credit for inventing just about everything. There are people who object to the phrase "the Cult of Tesla," but the Tesla fanatics are a prime example of a cult. Tesla fanatics have an "us against them" mentality with stories full of conspiracy theories of how the government took all of Tesla's files when he died. When it comes to any attempts to have a rational conversation, they deny any facts that might contradict the group's beliefs. Having a meaningful conversation with Tesla fanatics can be frustrating because there is a complete avoidance of critical thinking.

Studying the claims of Tesla fans, searching for the truth, has made me even more passionate about my original goals of drawing attention to the forgotten geeks who deserve to be remembered. One of the many claims of Tesla fans is that Tesla invented radio. In the process of digging deeper to learn more I came to appreciate the work of Fessenden. Who is the inventor who started his career working for Thomas Edison, later worked with George Westinghouse, and has a legitimate claim to be called the father of radio? The answer to that question is not Nikola Tesla, it is Reginald Fessenden.

From his work for George Westinghouse and the University of Pittsburgh, to the story of Fessenden's 1905 Christmas broadcast to ships at sea, he is indeed a forgotten geek that deserves to be remembered. Check out the complete story of Reginald Fessenden Canadian inventor of radio and wireless telephone

For all his quirks, I do appreciate the contributions of Thomas Edison. Including the mountains of material I have read, I have made two visits to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village near Dearborn, Michigan in recent years to study the accomplishments of Edison and other geeks. Just as I note the exaggerations of the Tesla fans, you can say that the claim that science becomes religion goes both ways. Henry Ford idolized Thomas Edison, you can clearly see that in the Henry Ford museum complex. The complete Menlo Park lab from New Jersey was transported to Michigan and rebuilt there. Henry Ford had a dedication ceremony for the reconstructed lab that Edison attended when it opened.

There are many forgotten geeks who made incredibly important contributions in bringing electricity to our homes. Nikola Tesla did not invent AC power generation. Tesla's sole contribution was his version of the polyphase AC motor. Significant, but it was theoretically described by other others before him, as were many of the other inventions and discoveries often credited to Tesla.

As we created the section on the history of electricity we broke it down into four sections starting with a list of scientists and inventors that contributed to our modern understanding of electricity.

Our next page looks at the European inventors before Edison and Tesla who contributed to the development of electricity and AC power distribution

It bothers me that so many internet sites talk about the War of Currents as the great battle between Edison and Tesla. Edison eventually lost control of Edison Electric as it merged with another company to become General Electric. Nikola Tesla was not a member of team Westinghouse when the War of Currents started between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison. Follow this link to learn about the many Westinghouse Electric engineers responsible for electricity and AC power in our homes

Edison does deserve credit for many inventions in a wide variety of areas, and in defending Edison, I have come up with a fair amount of material for the GeekHistory websites. Edison might have been too stubborn to back down on DC power generation as the way to produce electricity, but he does deserve to be respected for launching the modern electric utility industry with the creation of the Pearl Street station in lower Manhattan in 1882 When the War of Currents ended around 1893, Thomas Edison was no longer in control of Edison Electric. But the Edison team (which became part of the General Electric Company) lived on in many ways.

Reginald Fessenden worked several years for Edison, before joining forces with Westinghouse. In the biography "Fessenden – Builder of Tomorrow" - by Helen Fessenden (his wife), you will find remarks by Reginald Fessenden defending the legacy Thomas Edison.

"The question has often been put to me 'Is Edison really a good inventor? Are not his inventions really due to his assistants?' Having worked with him for a number of years and having made a rather special study of the science of invention and of inventors, my own conclusion is that all of the inventions which go by his name were made by him personally, and that there is only one figure in history which stands in the same rank with him as an inventor, i.e. Archimedes."

Edison had the reputation of a hard driving businessman, but he was also passionate about creating an invention factory. Edison paid workers to conduct numerous tedious experiments so he did not have to do the boring manual tasks himself. I think that is pretty genius.

Some of the Tesla fans point to crazy things that Edison did to discredit him as an inventor. Don't get me wrong, Thomas Edison was no saint, he was a lunatic at times, but to discredit Edison as a means to glorify Tesla is more than a little humorous. Nikola Tesla cornered the market on craziness during his lifetime.

A few more links to learn more:

Nikola Tesla versus Thomas Edison and the search for the truth

George Westinghouse used Tesla power to defeat Edison in Currents War



Wondering about the dark web and the forbidden fruit of the internet

The phrase forbidden fruit typically refers to engaging in an act of pleasure that is considered illegal or immoral. That fits the mold of many questions I am often asked, such as what are some of the illegal or immoral websites you can find on the mysterious and mythical part of the internet known as the dark web.  The mysterious dark web, sometimes called the dark net, is the fuel for spy movies. it helped to create WikiLeaks run by the super spy Julian Assange and it allows cyber snitches like Edward Snowden share secret information. People are axious to know how to find what is hinding beneath the surface in the dark web.

According to remarks made by Roger Dingledine at a recently Philly tech conference, the overall perception of the dark web is more mythical than factual.  Roger Dingledine is an MIT-trained American computer scientist known for having co-founded the Tor Project, aka "the dark web."  Dingledine spoke at the Philly Tech Week 2017 putting some of the myths and legends of "the dark web" into perspective.

The worldwide network known as “the dark web” uses specially configured servers designed to work with custom configured web browsers with the purpose of hiding your identity. You will see the term Tor servers and web browsers to describe this private network. Tor originally stood for "The Onion Router."  The Tor Project, Inc is a Massachusetts-based research-education nonprofit organization founded by computer scientists Roger Dingledine, Nick Mathewson and five others. The Tor Project is primarily responsible for maintaining software for the Tor anonymity network.

If you are looking for all that forbidden fruit hiding beneath the surface, according to Dingledine no more than one to three percent of the Tor Network’s traffic comes from “hidden services” or “onion services”, services that use the public internet but require special software to access. Dingledine claimed that onion services basically do not exist. He added that it’s a nonsense that there are “99 other internets” users can’t access.

One popular way often used to describe the deep web and dark net is to use a graphic of an iceberg. Dingledine advises his audience not to pay attention when someone uses the iceberg metaphor, and criticized the news providers who use the “iceberg metaphor” for describing the darknet and the deep web.  According to Dingledine, just about any use of the “dark web” phrase is really just a marketing ploy by cybersecurity firms and other opportunists.  So the forbidden fruit you were hoping to find really is just a myth after all.

Learn more:

People are fascinated about what you can find on the dark web, but have no idea what it all means. Learn more from Guru42 in this article where I go over the basic definitions with links to learn more: Buzzwords from the world wide web to deep web and dark net

Referencing Roger Dingledine at Philly Tech Week 2017 here are some links about that event:

Stop Paying Attention When Someone Uses The Iceberg Metaphor For The Dark Web

Stop talking about the dark web: Tor Project cofounder Roger Dingledine











What you need to know before buying a computer

At last the secret of what you need to know before buying a computer is revealed, there is no one size fits all answer. But you don’t need to be a world class geek to learn computer buzzwords and understand some basic concepts before you shop for your next computer.

I usually try to stay out of the Apple versus Microsoft debates. Since I am updating some content on desktop operating systems on I thought I would use this blog post to address the often asked question of "what computer should I buy" and add this perspective. I will also  introduce a few new articles to answer some frequently asked questions relevant to someone shopping for a computer.

Recently on an online forum the question of "what computer should I buy" was asked based on the idea that a MacBook Pro is inherently the best laptop out there. The person asking the question was looking for reasons to buy a MacBook Pro, but gave no clues on how they are going to use it. That is a very important factor in answering the question! I never answer any questions on "what computer should I buy" for friends and family until I ask several questions.

I laughed as I read one of the answers that stated, "If all you are going to do is web surfing, social media, and email you don’t need a MacBook Pro." Yea, that's right. There are Chromebooks as well as cheap Windows notebooks that could do that for a lot less money!

My best advice to anyone looking to buy a computer, think long and hard about how you are going to use it, and find other people with the same wants and needs, and ask them what they own, what they like and not like about it.

I am not a graphics designer or an artist, those are the type of users who are typically the Apple fans. I have been working in enterprise computer networking for more than 20 years, started working on desktop computers in the 1980s. I look at the computer as a tool, and I look at what is the best tool for the task at hand. I have no loyalties to any specific brands.

Many answers comparing Microsoft to Apple often use various luxury car to cheap foreign comparisons, implying if you could afford the expensive luxury car, but choose otherwise, you must be a fool. So let me run with that analogy.

Take a step back and look at the history of Apple versus Microsoft.  In the 1990s when Windows 95 dominated the desktop, Microsoft was the Ford F-150 pick up truck.  Not many people would describe the Ford F-150 pick up truck as a sexy luxury vehicle, but many would describe it as the work horse vehicle that gets the job done.  There's a good case to be made that the folks marketing to the pick up truck users have a different plan than those looking to sell the sexy luxury vehicle.

A computer is a tool I use for work, as well as recreation. I work in a business world that is Microsoft based. We are required to purchase a specific brand of Windows based computers, not my favorite brand, but that's my environment. My problems are no so much with Windows as it is the vendors that support our users create applications that run on old Microsoft operating systems. I have to deal with home cooked applications that are designed for last generation Windows computers. That's my world.

I have had iPads and various other Apple products in my home, and they never got used. Even if the interface is slightly different, I don't have time to deal with it. I have had access to Kindles and Nooks, and they never got used. I can put an application on my Windows notebook that reads the books, so why do I need to learn a new interface? It's called being lazy, I know it is, but I have no personal reason to care about Apple products. It's nothing personal.

If one of my family members wants to buy a luxury car, I will be happy to ride in it. If money were no object, tomorrow I would go out and buy a new Ford F-150 pick up truck that best suited my needs.

I don't get emotionally attached to my computers or automobiles. They are tools. Nothing more.

You too can understand computer buzzwords

Since 1998, has attempted to provide self help and tutorials for learning basic computer and networking technology concepts, maintaining the theme, "Geek Speak Made Simple." Recently I updated the Drupal content management software for Computerguru and updated a few pages.

Based on commonly asked questions, I have added several new pages to the section Common technology questions and basic computer concepts. On computer operating systems we have added an article that explains the major differences between desktop computer operating systems and one on installing Linux and understanding all the different Linux distributions.

I get a lot a questions on computer cables and finally finished up this article on Ethernet computer network cable frequently asked questions answered and an article explaining computer network modular connectors and telephone registered jacks.

And based on many questions on printers, we had some fun coming up with this article, the ugly truth about computer printers.

Yes, I know that sounds like a lot of geek speak, but we do our best to break it all down into small bite sized chunks, so it is easy to digest.  Please take a few minutes to check out the new content, and please share it with your geek friends on social media.

Any topics need covered? Any questions missing?

Are there any buzzwords bothering you?  Something else you would like us to cover here at the Guru 42 Universe?  Let us know: Guru 42 on Twitter -|- Guru 42 on Facebook -|- Guru 42 on Google+ -|- Tom Peracchio on Google  




Singularity futurist predicts when humans and machines merge

As we study Geek History we explore the visionaries who have an idea and see what is possible, often before the technology exists to make it real. Ray Kurzweil has been a technology visionary since the 1970s when he invented a reading machine for the blind with a text-to-speech synthesizer. In the 1980s Kurzweil created the first electronic musical instrument which produced sound derived from sampled sounds burned onto integrated circuits.

Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil believes the day that artificial intelligence becomes infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined is not that far off in the future. In his book, "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology" written in 2006, Kurzweil predicts when this new phase of artificial super intelligence takes place. "I set the date for the Singularity—representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability—as 2045"

Is singularity a destination?

So how far is it from here to infinity? How long will it take us to get to eternity?

I often say that the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. The phrase "You don't know what you don't know" has been said many ways. It is a play on a well-known saying that is derived from Plato's account of the Greek philosopher Socrates, "I know one thing; that I know nothing."

Maybe I am looking at this from my simple minded human perspective, but three decades is a pretty short time period in the evolution of humans and technology. I have the experience of having worked in the field of technology for more than four decades.

I sound like a real old fart when I talk about using radios with tubes in the 1970s and working as various forms of technology as it transitioned to solid state electronics. I remember back in the 1980s when I tried to explain to people how they would be using personal computers as tools in their business plugging them into phone lines. The concept of the internet was not widely known back then.

No one can predict the future with any certainty. Of course, if you want to debate, there were always those visionaries ahead of their time. Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps the greatest visionary to have ever lived. Leonardo saw the possibilities of flying machines in the 1500s, and designed in theory many examples of flying machines, centuries before the Wright Brothers launched their plane at Kitty Hawk. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or even feasible during his lifetime, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent in recorded history.

There were many people who could look into the future and see what was possible, such as a true visionary Jules Verne, who was quoted in 1865 as saying, "In spite of the opinions of certain narrow-minded people who would shut up the human race upon this globe, we shall one day travel to the moon, the planets, and the stars with the same facility, rapidity and certainty as we now make the ocean voyage from Liverpool to New York."

One of my favorite science fiction authors I read growing up was Isaac Asimov who told amazing stories of robotics and artificial intelligence. The technology of the 1940s and 1950s could not create the robots in the stories of Asimov. Today the stories of intelligent robots are no longer fiction.

Maybe I've read too many science fiction novels about the utopias and the dystopias? When I say, "You don't know what you don't know," I look at the examples given here. With every generation we are amazed with how far we have come as we look back to the past. But we also see the long journey ahead and are equally amazed as we look towards the future.



When the internet is down my radio still works

From time to time events in the world remind us that modern technology has limits, as we recently saw with the problems with Amazon Web Services, that took down many major web sites. People were having panic attacks because they were having issues getting to their favorite website.

Theoretically the internet was created to be a better more fault tolerant communications system. As the internet has exploded commercially it has become the exactly the opposite of the original goal. It has created the biggest single point of failure in our world. People forget there are other ways of doing things without using the internet, like using traditional broadcast radio for news and entertainment.

It scares me that some people think that we should use the internet for everything. Instead of making any more comments based on my subjective opinion, I felt inspired to do a little research.

It would appear that traditional radio is still alive and well.

Here are some snippets from Pew Research on radio broadcasting:

"... terrestrial radio continues to reach the overwhelming majority of the public."

As far as using radio for a source of news and information:

"Pew Research Center’s own survey work adds insight here, finding radio to be a common source of news among adults in the U.S. In research asking about how people are learning about the U.S. presidential election, 44% of adults said they learned about it from radio in the past week. "

Source: Pew Research Center Audio: Fact Sheet

To those who say terrestrial radio (traditional broadcast radio) is dead, might be surprised to see that the Pew research numbers show that the percentage of Americans ages 12 or older who listen to terrestrial radio weekly has remained pretty steady at over 90% for the years 2009 through 2015.

Source: Audio: Weekly radio listenership (terrestrial)

Why not always use the internet?

You use the simplest tool you need to solve a problem, why make things more complicated than they need to be?

I want to kick back after dinner, and unwind watching some mindless entertainment. I watch television. The internet can be a pain at times. Connections are slow, websites are take too long to load. Sometimes the alternatives to using the internet are more efficient.

I want to sit on the porch, enjoy a beverage, and relax. I listen to the radio. It is quick and simple. Why would I use anything else?

I am driving in the car, I want some background music to pass the time. I listen to the radio. Why do I need the internet?

What if the power goes out? What happens then? Will my wi-fi work? Or I just could listen to my battery powered radio to connect to the world.

Need any more examples?

Why it makes sense to receive FM Radio on your cell phone

Does it makes sense to eliminate FM radio in favor of digital?


Net Neutrality and the myth that the internet is free

One argument over net neutrality is the fear that the large Cable TV providers like Comcast controlling internet access as ISPs could charge for various levels of service on the internet in tiers, like they do with Cable TV services. Some people object to that because they believe "the internet should be free."

Entertainment such as radio and television started out as broadcast media, in that you had a receiver in your home to receive the signals broadcast by the local stations. Television grew out of radio. In the early days of television, the 1930s and 1940s, the successful television networks were the ones that started with radio networks.

There are still "free" televisions stations in that you can find many local stations that broadcast a signal through the air that you can receive. Cable TV was initially created to provide television service to areas that did not receive a good broadcast signal. As cable TV expanded in the 1960s and 1970s the Cable TV operators began to add extra channels to their systems that were not derived from broadcast signals.

The internet of today is the next step in the evolution of entertainment. The internet is new way to deliver various content to your homes through wires provided by your Cable TV company that were once used just to deliver television service. Satellite services once developed to compete with cable TV services now also deliver internet access. Radio has also expanded beyond the traditional through the air broadcasting to satellite radio and internet radio.

Broadcast radio is only free in the sense that you do not pay an ongoing fee to listen to the radio. But you pay for in the sense that you listen to advertising that is paid for by someone else. With cable television you are paying for the convenience of having a clear television signal delivered to your home through a wire. The programming is paid for in various ways, sometimes strictly by advertising, just like in the days of broadcasting. Sometimes the programming is paid for by fees through the cable services provider for carrying the channel. In the case of premium services like HBO or Showtime, you get to watch them commercial free, but you pay a premium, as in a charge to view them, that offsets the revenue that the commercials would raise.

Right now internet service providers are providing you with a connection to the services and you are paying for the access just like in the early days of cable TV. There are also premium services on the internet like NetFlix, where you pay a premium to access content, just like you would with premium services like HBO or Showtime.

Gratis versus libre free speech not the same as free beer

I stumbled upon an article about American software freedom activist and programmer Richard Stallman drawing attention to the concept of gratis versus libre and had a massive "ah-huh" moment regarding how this concept of "free" gets twisted in the net neutrality debate.

Richard Stallman is considered the father of the Open Source software movement. Stallman explains that Open Source refers to the preservation of the freedoms to use, study, distribute and modify that software not zero-cost. In illustrating the concept of Gratis versus Libre, Stallman is famous for using the sentence, "free as in free speech not as in free beer."

This dual definition of free can cause issues where the distinction is important, as it often is in dealing with laws concerning the use of information, such as copyright and patents.

There's no such thing as a free lunch but you are free to eat your lunch anywhere you want.

The use of the English adjective free often gets twisted because it can be used in one of two meanings. When you say there's no such thing as a free lunch you are using the word free meaning "for zero price" (gratis). When you say you are free to eat your lunch anywhere you want you are using the word free to mean "with little or no restriction" (libre).

The myth that the internet is free

Some people don't like the possibility of the large cable TV providers like Comcast controlling internet access as ISPs where they could charge for various levels of service on the internet in tiers, like they do with Cable TV services. That is part of the battle over net neutrality. Nothing is free.

Traditional radio and television are evolving and expanding and becoming a part of the big picture of media and the internet. If you don't pay an upfront fee to use something, you will pay for it in having to tolerate some form of advertising. If you want a better quality signal someone needs to pay to build up the highway to provide the services, and you will pay for that in service fees. If you want to watch programming or listen to music without commercials, there needs to be a way to license it and collect fees in the form of subscriptions so the content providers get paid for their work.

Part of the debate on a "free" internet is that the concept of free is two fold. You may be free to choose what services you want to use on the internet, but access to use those services is not free from cost or payment.

Graphic: American software freedom activist and programmer Richard Stallman (right) illustrating his famous sentence "free as in free speech not as in free beer", with a beer glass. Brussels, RMLL, 9 July 2013



Why it makes sense to receive FM Radio on your cell phone

Most smartphones come with FM radio receivers already built in, and the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants you to know that your wireless carrier may be keeping you from using the technology.

Why should you care about using FM Radio on your cell phone?

Emergency management professionals will tell you that traditional radio is a great source for news during times of emergency.

There are people in the cell phone industry that would call the public safety argument for using cell phone FM radio just a marketing ploy by traditional radio, but I would disagree. I know from first hand experience how fickle cell phone service can be.

During an earthquake on the east coast a few years ago everyone picked up their cellphones and began calling everyone they know to see what had happened. The cell phone circuits were overloaded. Thankfully the earthquake was just some rumbling and no major damage was done. But we all saw how vulnerable we are if we rely on cellular phone circuits for information during a time of emergency.

It happened again with Hurricane Sandy, and the problem was compounded by actual damage to cell towers and power outages in addition to increased phone volume. Cell phone users experienced various communications issues.

What is the issue with using FM Radio on your cell phone?

This article from Wired back in July pretty much sums up the issue…("Your Phone Has an FM Chip. So Why Can’t You Listen to the Radio?")

"Broadcasters and public safety officials have long urged handset manufacturers and wireless carriers to universally activate the FM chip, and recently brought the campaign to Canada. Carriers have little financial incentive to do so because they profit from streaming data, says Barry Rooke of the National Campus and Community Radio Association."

It's funny that the question being discussed from a Apple leaning publication such as MacRumors (FCC Chairman Encourages Activation of the FM Radio Receiver Built Into Your iPhone) states, "Apple's stance on the activation of FM receivers in iPhones is uncertain."

Other articles such as this one from The Verge ( FCC chief wants smartphones’ hidden FM radios turned on, but won’t do anything about it ) have a different slant on why, "Giving consumers the chance to pick free FM radio also means fewer track sales on iTunes and fewer new subscribers to services like Apple Music. ... That’d be a major downside for Apple, which is probably why it hasn’t embraced FM radio on the iPhone yet."

FM radio alive and well

We recently asked the question, "Does it makes sense to eliminate FM radio in favor of digital?" because in 2017 Norway will become the first country in the world to start shutting down its national FM radio network in favor of digital radio.

Our conclusion was that it makes no sense at all because broadcast radio is alive and well in the United States. There are currently over 6700 commercial FM stations. Not only is traditional FM radio alive and well, traditional FM radio provides a valuable service in time of emergency.




Will new FCC chairman get rid of Net Neutrality?

The mainstream news introduces new Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai as "Net Neutrality Foe." (1) The "Net Neutrality is dead" chant is being stirred up as technology sites like wired are already predicting "Net Neutrality No More." (2)

From many online debates I read in recent months, as well as questions I have been asked, it is obvious that there are many interpretations to the term Net Neutrality. My reaction to the appointment of Ajit Pai as the new FCC chairman is to simply say that since the topic is not clearly defined in the minds of many, the debate over any changes will be ongoing.

As far as technology sites like Wired predicting "Net Neutrality No More," I take that for what its worth. I'll read Wired for what's new in the world of gadgets. I wouldn't read Wired to try to make sense of FCC regulations and pending changes in internet law.

It also becomes a matter of opinions, which are like certain human body parts, everyone has one, and they all stink.

For some opinions that tell a different story...

This article from Forbes written after the appointment of New FCC Chair Ajit Pai backs the opinion that Net Neutrality won't change much. "Why Is The Media Smearing New FCC Chair Ajit Pai As The Enemy Of Net Neutrality?"(3) ...

"The net neutrality misinformation bandwagon has opened an ugly new front."

"For technology companies here in Silicon Valley and across the Internet ecosystem, Pai’s appointment is very good news. He favors a return to the bi-partisan policy of light-touch regulation established in the early days of the commercial Internet—policies that have made possible the convergence of networks, media and technologies on the single open Internet standard. His FCC is likely to be consistent, professional, and predictable."

This article from Forbes written right after Trump was elected backs the opinion that Net Neutrality won't change much. "The True Fate Of Net Neutrality In A Trump FCC" (4)...

"The basic net neutrality principles—that broadband providers can’t block access to lawful content, can’t intentionally slow network traffic for anti-competitive purposes, or otherwise discriminate against some content providers for non-technical reasons--are perfectly safe, regardless of what policies the Trump Administration ultimately adopts, or who the new President appoints to Chair the FCC."

This is article from IEEE, a technology professional association, does not jump on the net neutrality is dead bandwagon either. " Is Net Neutrality Good or Bad for Innovation?" (5)...

IEEE describes themselves as, "A not-for-profit organization, IEEE is the world's largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity."

"Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. Economists have done plenty of modeling on net neutrality over the past eight years, but there isn’t a strong consensus about whether keeping it or throwing it out would be best for consumers, innovation, or the economy."

"... anyone who tries to reverse U.S. policy on net neutrality will likely have a difficult road ahead. Public sentiment will not be on their side—when the FCC solicited public comments on the issue in 2014, they received a record 3.7 million comments, with the vast majority in favor of net neutrality."

I am more concerned about mergers and acquisitions that reduce competition than I am about changes in Net Neutrality laws.  Comcast recently announced it will roll out a mobile phone service in 2017 using Verizon’s network infrastructure, stirring up speculation of a Comcast and Verizon merger in the future. "Are Wedding Bells On Horizon As Comcast Launches Wireless Service On Verizon Network?" (6)

That is a lot more frightening thought than any net neutrality legislation. The 800 pound gorilla of cable, partners with the giant of wireless. Holy monopoly Batman!

For those who fear new changes in net neutrality will create a new wave of internet censorship, they must have short memories because there have been many proposed laws in recent years to control what content is allowed on the internet, and these laws have been for the most part, independent of the net neutrality debate.

Stay tuned as we continue to follow on ongoing debate over Net Neutrality.

Learn more:

Internet censorship and net neutrality is not a simple matter

Internet equality and net neutrality explained in simple terms

Links to news articles:

(1) Report: 'Net Neutrality' Foe Ajit Pai Is New FCC Head

(2) Trump’s FCC Pick Doesn’t Bode Well For Net Neutrality

(3) Why Is The Media Smearing New FCC Chair Ajit Pai As The Enemy Of Net Neutrality?

(4) The True Fate Of Net Neutrality In A Trump FCC
(5) Is Net Neutrality Good or Bad for Innovation?

(6) Are Wedding Bells On Horizon As Comcast Launches Wireless Service On Verizon Network?

Federal Communications Commission Photo: FCC Chairman Genachowski swears in Ajit Pai as a new Commissioner at the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC. May 14, 2012.





Automotive dependability ratings skewed by modern technology

I am geek who loves to get to the bottom of myths and legends, as well as claims by auto makers in commercials. After watching several television commercials by a certain automaker bragging about earning more J.D. Power Initial Quality awards than any other brand, I decided to do a little research.  Should I really be impressed by all these awards? What exactly do they measure?

The first point is the numbers game. Claiming that your brand has more J.D. Power Initial Quality awards than any other brand has do with the number of models that you sell. Chevy has the most models on the J.D. Power Initial Quality awards list, but Chevy also produces a large number of models when you look at their line of cars and trucks. On the long list of 2016 Initial Quality Ratings I was surprised to see models such as the Hyundai Accent, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Azera, and Kia Soul on the list, all made by the Hyundai Motor Company.

The other issue with the automaker bragging is the value of measuring initial quality. The definition of initial quality is defined as problems experienced by vehicle owners during the first 90 days of ownership.  The first 90 days, that's not a long period of time.  I am pretty happy with my 2008 Mercury Milan, 9 years and 185,000 miles later, and I have never had a major problem. Seems like quality should be measured in larger increments than 90 days.

Studies skewed by modern technology

J.D. Power has two major areas for automobiles, the annual Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) and Initial Quality Study (IQS). I thought I would dig deeper and look for the longer term dependability ratings.  Instead of finding more answers, my search raised many questions of the value of their dependability ratings.

In the world today people see an automotive as more than an transportation vehicle, they see the automobile as a collection of gadgets and gizmos attached to a vehicle on wheels.  Because of this infatuation with technology, issues with entertainment systems and Bluetooth connections can skew automotive dependability ratings.

An article on Autoblog, "J.D. Power needs to rethink its Vehicle Dependability Study," makes the statement, "A poor Bluetooth pairing procedure is not the same as a blown engine."

The Autoblog article explains how the ratings are skewed by modern technology.

"If an owner can't get his or her phone to connect via Bluetooth to the audio system, that's a problem. If an owner's audible command isn't properly deciphered by that annoying synthesized voice all infotainment systems seem plagued by, that's a problem. But are either of those problems as serious as a transmission that won't shift, or an engine that won't start? Not by my standards. But by J.D. Power's, the answer is yes."

An article in Forbes, "Inside The 'Real' J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Ratings"  also explains how the ratings are skewed by modern technology.

"Apparently the notion of what qualifies as an unreliable car no longer means one that leaves its owner stranded at the side of the road or otherwise requires frequent repairs. Today it’s stretched to encompass what some of us might consider minor inconveniences, particularly balky voice control systems and difficulty with Bluetooth mobile phone pairing and connectivity. Issues with electronics now account for 20% of all consumer-reported car problems in J.D. Power’s survey."

Remember when a car was just a car?

If you dig into some of these studies on dependability you will find brands of vehicles where there are better engines and drivetrains with fewer problems, but the overall brands rate lower because of issues with Bluetooth connections or voice activated entertainment systems. Going back to quote the Autoblog article, "A poor Bluetooth pairing procedure is not the same as a blown engine."

I've owned quite a few cars in my lifetime, and a few had major engine problems. I am pretty happy with a car that is 9 years and has 185,000 miles on it. Yea, the voice activated audio system sometimes doesn't understand what I am saying and I sometimes swear at it when the Bluetooth gets temperamental and decides not to connect to my phone.  But it is the most reliable car I have ever owned.

There was a time when someone talked about the dependability of a car, they were primarily talking about the engine and drivetrain, the major components of a car.  Issues with electronics in a car meant static on your radio. If your car radio gave you fits, you ripped it out and through in a new one.  Maybe an upgrade with a tape deck!

After reading several articles explaining these vehicle dependability studies and initial quality studies, I am reminded of a quote by Mark Twain, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."

Image: Screenshot from 1970 Mercury commercial

Explore automotive innovation and invention at Altered Automotive (link is external).  Learn more about the great automotive inventors like Ford and Olds as we explore the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit (link is external) and the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, Michigan. (link is external)